Thursday, April 1, 2010

Radio Nature League (1925 September to December)

Note: According to the dated script, the Radio Nature League met at 6:30 on September 16. This is not reflected in the listing in the Boston Daily Globe, which still has the program ("Radio Nature Story by Thornton W. Burgess") on at 7:32. On October 14, the Globe finally listed the program as "Radio Nature League by Thornton W. Burgess" and on December 16 begins to identify guest speakers. Mrs. Burgess filled in on October 7 (while Mr. B was up in the New Brunswick wilderness) and again on November 18.

September-December 1925

Starting September 2, 1925, the Radio Nature League entered its most productive era. Thornton Burgess announced that the Smithsonian and the Boston Society of Natural History would now serve as experts advisers, helping to answer members' questions and make identifications. (From this point on, Burgess, care of the mailroom of WBZ, would receive hundreds of objects of natural history, some still living.) He also announced the start of a series of guest speakers. These would be:
  • November 11: Arthur Loveridge of the Zoological Society of London on "Spitting Snakes."
  • November 25: John C. Phillips of the Boston Society of Natural History
  • December 16: W. Sprague Brooks, curator of birds at the Boston Society of Natural History, on "Arctic Spring."
  • December 23: Dr. Harold L. Babcock, of the Boston Museum of Natural History, on "New England Turtles."
The speakers would be allotted fifteen minutes at the beginning of the program and would speak from a remote hook-up at the Hotel Brunswick in Boston. The normal question/experience format would resume afterwards. Burgess would now call shows without speakers, "experience meetings."

The Radio Nature League's central scientific project began on October 14. On that program, Burgess spoke at length about research being conducted by Dr. Alfred O. Gross at Bowdoin College on the ruffed grouse. The population of the grouse, a favorite New England game bird, had crashed and Gross and his colleagues were looking for samples of grouse intestines to check for parasites. For the rest of the fall (and repeatedly during the grouse's open season throughout the remaining years of the RNL) Burgess would call for grouse intestines (along with instructions on how to pack them for the mail) and also update listeners on research findings. According to TWB's autobiography, the RNL became the best source of specimens for the Gross project, contributing "some two thousand." (He also notes, a tad resentfully, that "wives often proved to be better sports than their husbands, the latter proving too uninterested to co-operate in preserving their favorite sport." (p. 148)) The grouse project received national attention, evidence of the "possibilities of radio as a direct and practical aid to science." (Hartford Courant, January 6, 1926). On December 2, another (successful) request went out to listeners for white weasel specimens, to aid an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Natural History.

The Radio Nature League had also attracted the attention of public officials. On December 9, the program held a special "Connecticut School Nature Party." This was organized with the help of Russell F. Lund, supervisor of the elementary school agriculture and nature study in Connecticut and featured a special message from Conn Governor, John H. Trumbull.

Finally, September, 1925 marked the beginning of a new Burgess Sunday newspaper feature, the "Burgess Radio Nature League." This feature, syndicated throughout the nation, drew directly from RNL radio scripts and offered a different channel into League participation.

Next: Burgess Radio Nature League

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